Throwing a Shield in Front of Your Drums May Not Be Enough
Whether you are in a club, arena, small church, large church, bar, or studio, the fact is drums get to be pretty loud. And in each case, that sound needs to be contained in one way or another. In larger settings, the sound needs to be captured in the purest form possible and amplified. In smaller settings, it simply needs to softened to a level that allows for a comfortable mix around it.
Most of my experience comes from the church setting, so that’s the perspective I’m writing from, but these principles can be carried over to many other applications.
The first thing most bands or churches do is buy a drum shield, set it up around the kit, and expect to have the drums contained. This is a good start, but you have to look at your entire setting before assuming you’re doing the right thing. A drum shield is not a containment device, as much as it is a redirection device. It does not absorb the sound of the drums, it just deflects it, thus softening the loudness of the drums for the audience, and allowing the sound guy to mix cleanly around them. It also keeps the sound of the drums from bleeding over into the vocal mics, which can wreak havoc on even the best mix. Take a good look behind the drum kit. What sort of space and surface is back there? A drum sheild in front of a solid brick wall will make your sound guy want to rip the ears right off the side of his head. Or, in the case of the last church I worked at, if it’s a brick/plaster wall with a forward slope above the drums, you’ll do nothing but shoot the sound straight up and out, which in our case meant killing the ears of anyone in the balcony. If you’re fortunate enough to have a deep stage with high ceilings and some kind of acoustical treatment, the sheild will work just fine. It will keep the sound moving backwards and up, the drummer will pick up most of the noise, and the rest will disappear to the back. But in any sort of small, contained stage setting, just a drum shield isn’t enough– and in some cases, it will actually hinder the mix rather than help it.
Be prepared to put some acoustical treatment, like foam wedges, or sound absorbent panels (see ClearSonic, Inc.), behind the kit, or possibly even in front. You’ll have to experiment, but just keep in mind the properties of the drum shield: It’s not absorbing sound, it’s reflecting it a different direction. The sound has to go somewhere. Even in a small room, if you can manage to get that sound contained and absorbed, you can throw a couple mics on the kit and things will work pretty smoothly. The smaller or more odd the acoustical properties of the room, the more you’ll fight with it, and the more you’ll have to experiment. But start with a shield, and be prepared for a lot of trial and error… but a thorough evaluation of the space you’re using will help you out.